Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi is very sorry he called the murder and dismemberment of journalist Jamal Kashoggi a simple “mistake” that should be forgiven, much like the kind of mistakes Uber itself has made, say, with self-driving cars.
“I think that government said they made a mistake,” Khosrowshahi told Axios’ Dan Primack, who asked about the October 2018 killing in an interview that aired Sunday.
Primack quickly followed up: “Well, they made a mistake and somebody’s dead.”
“It’s a serious mistake. We’ve made mistakes too, right, with self-driving, and we stopped driving and we’re recovering from that mistake,” Khosrowshahi said. “I think that people make mistakes. It doesn’t mean that they can never be forgiven.”
Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund is the fifth-largest shareholder in Uber and the head of the fund, Yasir bin Othman Al-Rumayyan, is on the board of the company.
Primack pressed Khosrowshahi on that relationship during an interview. He pointed out Khashoggi’s death wasn’t an accident — the CIA determined Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman himself ordered the journalist’s killing.
“I didn’t read that part of the CIA report,” Khosrowshahi said. “I think from a Saudi perspective, they’re just like any other shareholder, right? Now we’re a public company; anyone can invest in our company if they choose to do so.”
Axios reported that Khosrowshahi called Primack to express regret about an hour after the interview and then backtracked in an emailed statement the next day.
“I said something in the moment that I do not believe,” he said in the statement. “When it comes to Jamal Khashoggi, his murder was reprehensible and should not be forgotten or excused.”
Uber's "mistakes" include the killing of a woman in Tempe, Arizona, when a self-driving Uber failed to recognize her as a jaywalking pedestrian. Uber has also been plagued by charges of harassment within a company that fostered a sexist culture. More than 100 drivers have also been accused of sexual assault or abuse, and the company reportedly shared personal info with a claims company to settle abuse cases.
Uber pulled out of Saudi Arabia’s 2018 investment conference after the Khashoggi killing and Khosrowshahi missed the 2019 conference as well, but he said in the Axios interview that it was because of a scheduling conflict.
Khosrowshahi posted a tweet Monday reiterating that his initial comments were misguided.
“There's no forgiving or forgetting what happened to Jamal Khashoggi & I was wrong to call it a ‘mistake,’” he tweeted. “As I told [Primack] after our interview, I said something in the moment I don't believe.”
Cover: Dara Khosrowshahi, chief executive officer of Uber Technologies Inc., poses for a photograph in Bengaluru, India, on Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019. (Photo: Samyukta Lakshmi/Bloomberg via Getty Images)